Think about the best parts of driving. The feel of the road, the way the car handles, the excitement of a road trip, and all those times you fell asleep in the back seat as a kid.
Now, think about the parts you hate about driving. The traffic, the cost of gas, the aggravation of insurance, and all the times a little issue turned into a massive problem.
If you’ve ever worked on your own car, you know you it makes you treat driving in a different light. There’s less magic at first. You start being more critical of the sound of it idling, you start to hear the squeaks of the brake pads, and you wince at every pothole.
Eventually, instead of magic, you start to feel wonder and respect. You start to appreciate the decades of engineering, the leaps in technology, and the little details that take explosions and turn them into a responsive machine with you at the wheel.
Businesses are a lot like that.
Most business leaders talk about their company in terms of mission, vision, and values. Using the car analogy, the mission is where you want to go. The vision is what you pay attention to on the road. The values are how you drive (10 miles over the speed limit, switching lanes without blinkers, etc)
The media focus on mission, vision, and values is like driving. It makes for great TEDtalks and wonderful VC pitches. It results in talking about ideas and motivations and concepts.
But it also results in rehashed ideas in new packaging because ‘this time it’s different’. It results in consultant firms with regurgitating ‘industry standards’ without spending any time with the actual company. Like a stuntcar driver taking a minivan through the suburbs.
The problem is that businesses are made up of parts. These parts are the people, process, and technologies. The people are the fuel, the engine is the technology, and everything else is the process. Each of these parts are unique to that business. The technology might be common, but how it’s used (process) and by whom (people) is as unique as a fingerprint. And a lot of businesses have really misused their parts.
People are handcuffed by adversarial non-competes, while being monitored and micromanaged and somehow also ignored. The FAANGs have notoriously hired people to keep them from being hired elsewhere. Not because they were an intricate and valuable piece to the business. Just because they didn’t want anyone else to have them. Like adding flame decals to make the car go faster.
In a lot of companies, there are disjointed processes and kludges of various internal systems because someone, somewhere, decided that this was the way we do things here. Like the passenger door that won’t unlock unless you hit it just right. Sure, you could fix it but it would mean a lot of time, money, and hassle. So you’d better not change it.
And let’s not talk about technology. Entire companies are built on the backs of a barely functional Access database from the early 90’s. The recent issues with NOTAM are a prime example of this. Not investing in your technology is like never changing your oil.
This focus on driving is not a wrong decision, exactly. Massive gains in productivity have allowed a single worker to do the work of multiple workers. Low interest business loans and a robust stock market meant there were always capital resources to be leveraged.
In effect, they were rolling downhill and calling it driving.
With the increase in the Fed Rate, there’s now a slight incline. With the greying of the workforce and the Great Reshuffling, there’s not as much gas in the tank. That funny sound the engine was making? It’s a lot louder.
And the wheels are starting to come off.
Now is the time for mechanics. Drivers focus on the mission, vision, and values. They can lead teams and push initiatives and manage change. Mechanics focus on the people, process, and technology.
If you’re a driver, it’s past time for you to find the mechanics in your company. Give them the tools they need to succeed. Trust them, even if you don’t understand or agree with their solutions.
If you’re a mechanic, now’s your time to shine. Speak up about solutions. Point out inefficiencies. Make outlandish goals and achieve them.
Because that incline is only going to get more steep.